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The Magicians' Guild - Trudi Canavan

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Well, here I am starting yet another YA series that the family has read and raved about and, take it from me, they're a fussy crowd! And yet another Aussie author - like Garth Nix whose Abhorsen series I read last year, Trudi Canavan also hails from The Antipodes. So, did I like the first in the series, The Magicians' Guild? Oh, yes. The family, as usual, were right.

The story concerns Sonea, a 'dwell' girl from the slums. She inadvertantly discovers she has magical capabilities when she zaps a magician during a slum purge. The race is on then. The magicians need to find her but Sonea thinks their intent is malicious and doesn't wish to be caught. How she avoids them makes for a pacey, rather exciting tale. The last quarter of the book slows down a bit but the story is no less interesting for that. Good stuff. I shall be reading the second book, The Novice very soon. This trilogy is complete and a second by her has two books to its name, the third comes out in the UK in July I believe. It's nice to discover a new author who is prolific and, more importantly, *good*.

One of the things that's close to my heart (and that I'm rather opinionated about I'm afraid) is children's reading. I was like it when my own daughters were learning to read and I'm no better now that they have their own kids. In fact, I think I'm even more opinionated about it now that I'm older. *g* Thus, I find it tragic to hear on the local news that only 36% of parents in the South West of England read to their children. When I related this to Son-in-Law his reply was, 'As many as that?' Because he knows, as I do, that Daughter number one goes into the grand-daughter's school to help with reading and she would put the number who have anything whatsoever to do with their children's reading at much less than that. Personally, I find it sad, sad, sad that people go to all the trouble of producing children and then can't be bothered to do this one thing that would benefit them enormously. At six, the grand-daughter is a book and reading fiend (having been read to since she was a few weeks old) and this is reflected across the board in her other school work. At 15 weeks the grandson sits on my or Daughter number two's lap and already has a favourite book (a pop-up book about 'Poppy' the cat). His little legs go two to the dozen and he gurgles contentedly at the pictures. What he gets out of it I have no idea but all the signs tell us he loves it. I just don't understand people. I know we all have busy lives but really, half an hour a day is not that much to invest in your children's future. Or am I living in some kind of cloud cuckoo land? /rant


I echo what you say about reading to children. It is sad, it is so very, very sad. And at the end of the day, books are free if you go to a library, thus there isn't any excuse. None at all.
There is no excuse. I know many people have busy, stressful lives but then I would question why have children if you haven't even got 10 minutes to spare exclusively for *them* in the evenings. And yes... expense is no excuse because as you said, the library is free. Scott is already a member. :-) J will be busy when she starts back to work in a few weeks but I know she'll find time to sit with him with a book and so of course will I. ;-)
I whole-heartedly agree with you.

Don't have kids if you can't devote some time to them! Parents cannot devolve 100% responsibility 100% of the time. There are always times when the best laid plans go astray for a very good reason, but some people just think they can have a kid and let everyone else bring it up.

*Nikki climbs off of her soap-box*
some people just think they can have a kid and let everyone else bring it up.

Don't they just. And reading is just another thing they think school is responsible for and not themselves. There are times I wonder why society lets just *anyone* have children.

Hah! You and me both!!!!!
I absolutely agree with you about children and reading to them. I think one reason (among many) that so few parents read to their children is that the easily available, age-appropriate (what a loathsome concept) "children's books" are boring and badly written, and the parents don't have the knowledge and confidence to select books themselves to read.

When my children's elementary schools had guest reading days, I read from Kipling's Just So Stories, which have large vocabularies, complex sentence structure and ideas, and fit well in your mouth -- and the children were rapt and involved. No need for the pap that our culture directs to them.
I find the selection for children in this country to be more varied than it was when my kids were small. So, no complaints there really. But I do agree with you about the fact that people these days don't think children are capable of understanding - and would be bored by - the classic children's authors such as Kipling, Charles Kingsley (I adored The Water Babies as a child), Louisa May Alcott (whose books I devoured after seeing the movie of Little Women) and so on. It's such a mistake to underestimate children's understanding. I have several of Kipling's books on my grandchildren's bookshelves - also Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn...

I *adore* your icon. (Think I may have told you that before...)
OMG! Someone else who read The Water Babies! I loved that book. Another good author is George McDonald and his Curdie books. And, yes, there is a lot more to Alcott than she's given credit for.

I'm noticing that all the ones we're talking about are Victorian. There are good modern authors, but they don't have the sheer massive presence of Kipling or McDonald, who put the burden of understanding upon the reader, and assume the reader is quite capable of dealing with it.

inglenook made the Smite icon -- she is witty.
Oh yes, I read The Water Babies when I was younger and adored it. Oddly enough I don't have a copy so I must put that right soon. Would love to read it again to see what I make of it as a 50 something adult. George McDonald I don't know so will investigate him.

and assume the reader is quite capable of dealing with it.

These days we really don't expect enough of our children. We're terrified that they'll be bored. When you think that Dickens was read by children not that many years ago and it didn't occur to anyone to think he would be too difficult for them. So much our children miss out on really, as you just don't see that richness of language in modern children's books any more.

Couldn't agree more! No one can complain about the price of books - library books are free!! We get books out of the library every week for our kids and read to them every night, whether they want us to or not, lol. I get as much out of it as they do - there are some gorgeously-illustrated children's books out there - I find them very inspiring.
I do think that people don't realise that, as you say, you get a lot out of reading to your children *yourself*. It's fun and very rewarding. I've been amazed at how children's book have changed since my daughters were small. I often used to bemoan the lack of variety and the fact that there were rarely new books for them. Nowadays the children's sections are wonderful. As you said, the illustrations are beautiful, very inspiring. And the YA books available these days are often better than the adults...
And the YA books available these days are often better than the adults...

I think that's why I'm drawn to writing YA myself - the plots often tend to be more innovative and exciting than novels for adults!

The library is great for us - although the kids do have 'favourite' books, they also like variety - and we don't often know what will appeal and what won't - if they don't take to a particular library book, it can just go back again the following week :-) Our library doesn't even charge late fees on children's books!
I'm reading a lot of YA books these days and there must be a reason for it. I think it's that the authors are showing much more imagination than the adult writers are. Plus the sexual content is practically nil and that's okay by me. I seem to have reached a place where I'm bored with the obligatory sex scene...

Lol! Me too, actually :-) In the YA I'm writing there is a budding romance between two 16-year-olds, and it's quite nice to write about a sweet romance that is all about emotions and tenderness rather than with the emphasis being on bonking!
Well, you know me, Caffy, books and reading, amongst other things of course, are at the core of my contentment in life. And I loved reading to my children. I agree books are so easily available now - look in the charity shops, as well as new and borrowing. Though children do develop their favourites which they want over and over again, so will need their own copies of some. And these are likely to be the ones that end up most loved, battered, worn and scruffy and therefore not likely to be saleable in charity shops - thinking of pop-ups and those ones with glued on bits and cut-outs. The Very Hungry Caterpillar springs to mind! (I just looked at Amazon to see whether this is still available, twenty years after I read it to my children. It's wonderful to read the reviews by (now grown up) adults on the full edition - including one by a Children's librarian!). I digress.
But, maybe the main reason many parents don't read to their children is that their parents didn't read to them? Such things do tend to be passed on. And a lot of people who have even mild literacy problems feel intimidated by "a book" not realising (or caring) that they are passing on this discomfort in turn. So thank goodness that there are other enthusiastic parents, like your daughter, willing to go into school and share their love of books.
There really isn't a lot of reading aloud done now, although I can remember doing it in class at school. And even then, it was glaringly obvious that there were those who enjoyed it and to whom it came easily and those who hated it or were very bad at it, not necessarily the same people! Even now, I work with two very bright people - one man, one woman (a teacher!) who sometimes have to read out reports or letters in meetings and make (lots of) mistakes, to the point where it is painful for all concerned. Somehow, I can't imagine those two and others like them instilling a love of reading into their kids.
And, as Caffy and I have discussed before, I find children love the rhythm and sound of poetry, read aloud to them, too. I love reading poetry to kids, especially where the rhythm fits the words and you can see their faces as they listen and get caught up in the poem!
I had to laugh when you mentioned The Hungry Caterpillar. Oh yes, it's still avaliable. J spotted it in the shop when we were visiting a NT property at Christmas for a craft fayre. It was like she had spotted a long lost friend *g* and she just had to have it for Scott. She reads it to him along with his other books. Great minds and all that...

I think, as you said, that there is an element of 'a parent doesn't read to their child so those children don't read to their's' etc. But the cycle can be broken. My mother never read to me, no one did to be honest. I don't really know where my early love of books came from but at five, instead of playing in the sand-pit or with the water, I was in the book corner. I can't explain it and often wish I could. For some reason I was determined, when my children were born, that it would be different for them. What accounts for this difference in attitude I don't know. Why some continue the way their parents did and others decide that's not the way to go. I'm inclined to think it might be the kind of family I married into. Also possibly the fact that I actually *enjoyed* education as a child... I suspect there are many factors that influence a situation like that. But it is fascinating.

And we're agreed about poetry as you know. Our grand-daughter loves it... especially nonsense and humourous poetry or anything with a good rhythm. And it shows of course in her written work at school. She has no problem with vocab lessons, spelling tests and written work because she's constantly exposed to words.

I suspect several things have changed since you and I grew up, especially the availability of books. My family was certainly very poor, because my father was chronically ill, there was no national assistance or much sick pay and we didn't have any money to spare for books. Like you, my mother didn't read to me. There were very few books in our house. But I read voraciously for as long as I can remember, the cereal packet and the HP sauce bottle if there was nothing else - the first place I ever saw written French! And I grew up a passionate reader, can remember walking the mile or so to the public library and being thrilled by the shelves and shelves of books and, during school holidays, returning almost daily to change books - with those dinky little pockets to hold the cards out of the books! And the wonder of growing up enough to have access to the adult section!
Of course, I grew up within the Methodist church, with Sunday Schools which still then to some extent concerned themselves with ordinary literacy as well as religious education and we were encouraged to enter Scripture exams and to learn recitations for Anniversary services. And I remember getting books (improving ones,of course!)as prizes for attendance. My maternal grandfather and uncle were both very intelligent and intellectual (though working in humble jobs) and I found out later that my uncle had been very involved with the Workers' Educational Association for much of his life. My mother loved poetry but I don't remember her ever reading a book. My father rarely read anything more than a newspaper and was not especially comfortable with that. Who knows where I got my interest from?
Certainly both parents were concerned about literacy and were very worried because my brother had severe literacy problems which, of course, were not recognised in the fifties as they would be today. But they paid a neighbour who was a teacher to coach him, so they obviously cared. And they were enormously proud when I got into Grammar School. But uni was certainly not a foregone conclusion and I got a job when I left school after A levels. My daughter was the first in our family to go to uni.
So where did you and I get our passion for books and reading to and nurturing the love of books in our children?
I think you're amazingly right about the importance of reading to/with children - and bizarrely enough I can see a progression through it from myself (oldest, mum at home more, always books around, has always adored reading) to my sister (two of us to deal with, also starting to work, family issues, sis reads some but much less) to my brother (8 years younger, mum full-time work, much family stress, much less time spent with books, more outdoors with dad - and guess what!). And I know my mum is really aware of it and regrets it, but at the time there were other issues they were dealing with.

Then from teaching myself I was made even more aware of the difficulties that so many parents have themselves with books. More kids leave high school struggling to read at their level than you'd think, just glad to be out of the system, and these people are of course turning into parents themselves. Which is sad but true...

But how do you fix it? I remember we had alot of time allowed at primary school, and even high school, where we were encouraged to read to ourselves, or to each other. In primary school, we always had a set time at least once a week where the teacher read us a story too - generally from a longer children's or "YA" book that we might not otherwise pick out ourselves, and it was "quiet time" when that happened. Oh, and we also had parents who came in nearly every day, and took us in turns to hear us read! I'm not sure the national curriculum is leaving time for that sort of effort to make up the short-fall anymore...
I don't think your mum need feel too guilty as parents are not the only influence. As I said to rosie55 my mother never read to me. I'm from a one parent family (father never around) and, as with your family, there were *many* issues, but I still - from somewhere - developed a love of books. Parents are very influential, yes, but other things like schools and peer pressure count too.

I don't know how you fix it. And I'm not sure if things are better than they were with adult literacy help available and things like the TV and libraries doing their bit. TV could do more though. The BBC had a wonderful '100 favourite books' year a couple of years back but now... nothing. They need to do something every year. Because there are still far too many kids leaving school who are illiterate and that's tragic. Parents either don't want to, or are working and haven't the time to help, with reading in school these days. My daughter is the only one from her daughter's class who goes. If she didn't go the class teacher would struggle to find the time to listen to each child once a week, she knows this for a fact. I suppose the National Curriculum is to blame for this, teachers have so much to cover these days. But reading really ought to be a priority it seems to me. Luckily our grand-daughter gets a lot of help at home so what goes on at school is not so crucial to her reading development. Most kids are not that fortunate.
How interesting. In my family, I was the second child. As I've said to caffyolay above, we were not a very literary family. My brother was three years older than me and, to this day, has appalling literacy problems which have shaped his life. When I talked about adults being deeply uncomfortable with books, I was speaking from family experience. My aunt told me, years after ny father died, that, as a boy, he had similar problems at school though he later managed to become a master cabinet maker by trade.
One of my earliest memories, of our first very Victorian school, was of being called from my Reception class, then aged barely four, to watch my brother being caned for not being able to read something. I remember running at the teacher shouting at her to "Leave my brother alone" - even at four, I could see that wouldn't help. I still feel a burning sense of injustice and anger when I think about it!
Whereas, my mother told me that, without ever being consciously taught, when I was about three, I looked up one day from my pushchair and spelled out "Bus stop" from the sign above me! Perhaps I had picked this up from extra help they were giving my brother? I'll never know.
So he, in addition to his own sense of inadequacy, had a little sister overtaking him almost from the moment I started school. Who knows how different it would be now?
I was fascinated recently when daughter J had an eye test, that the optometrist could not account for a particular colour blindness J has and thinks this is an unusual form of dyslexia. Which has presumably not shown itself in the usual reading problems, since she has also been a voracious reader all of her life! And is now finishing her Master's dissertation - so, yes, we've broken a pattern or two,too in our family!
What a pity schools can't encourage older people to go into schools and read with children - there must be early retired people who would be prepared to help and would enjoy the contact with children, especially if they had no grandchildren of their own. But, as you say, the National Curriculum and a constant stream of "initiatives", not to mention CRB checking, tend to discourage this sort of thing now.
Oh interesting... I'm just young enough (and Australian enough!) that I believe corporal punishment had been banned in schools before I even started - I never saw anyone hit by a teacher, or heard of it outside of stories, until I got to England. Ridiculous to think it might help...

Interesting as well about your daughter and the optician. Colour filters are something that seem to help some children who do have dyslexia, and I gather there's research on the go about the connection between dyslexia and colour, so probably that's what your optometrist was thinking about. Something else on my list of things to look up properly!

I like your idea about making a connection between retired people and schools actually. Do you know, that's something else I remember, parents coming in and teaching us to knit - another art that's rather being lost to the young, I suspect - and I do seem to imagine them as much older somehow, so maybe... But I digress! I was working on a project about loneliness in elderly people last summer, in fact, and I'm sure that'd be a wonderful thing to help them make a connection as well - as long as the kids weren't allowed to overwhelm them. Mind, then you get into issues of transportation - alot of feelings of isolation seemed to stem from the fact that it was so hard to make use of various transportation schemes because they weren't actually designed with input from the elderly themselves, or they were wonderful while they lasted, but the funding ran out. So how to get the more available, older retired people to schools might be an issue... Oh, and then of course police checks, nowadays (which aren't cheap)... it's all got so complicated!

My parents weren't "literary" really either - dad didn't finish school (in South Africa) because this teachers went to war, and mum had to leave when she was 12 because she was a girl rather than a boy (very old-fashioned, my grandfather, and the Isle of Man even more so at the time). Funnily enough she was the one who did value reading - I'd say Primary School must have played a big part there. Although my gran apparently wrote poetry, so maybe there was something else going on...
I couldn't agree with you more about reading to children. There's no better way to stimulate their curiosity about and interest in the world. It's a great preparation for the rest of their lives.

There's no better way to stimulate their curiosity about and interest in the world.

Exactly. My grand-daughter asks endless questions when we're reading and we end up discussing all manner of obscure things. You wouldn't think this would be possible with a six year old but it is.